Charlotte was a rescue. She had been found and brought to a shelter at about three months old. They weren’t sure of her exact age, history, how she had come to be wandering the city. So they fed her, fixed her, and named her after a queen. She knows this—as well as her exact age, history, how she had come to be wandering the city. She carries it all with a regal grace and perfunctory aloofness.
Charlotte was lying directly on Lee’s chest, her muted gray form rising and falling with the in-and-out of their shared breathing. It was evening, and the lamps were dimly lit. Lee didn’t like bright lights and turned them on only when deep cleaning. So, maybe twice a year. Everything was more forgiving that way. After all, you had to be really angry at something to achieve a truly thorough clean. And if you allowed yourself to become really angry too many times a year, you may find yourself without a home to clean.
It was too warm for a fire—unseasonably warm for January. The fireplace looked sad and dusty when empty—like an old, gray eye staring ahead squarely, blankly. There were tiny paw prints of ash leading to and fro as evidence of Charlotte’s investigation. Someone had to ensure that the embers were out.
Lee worried that every time she wrote about herself she was lying down or lazing on the couch. She didn’t want her readers to think she was too sedentary—though, in fact, she was. Well, she was in good company with Charlotte. And anyway, she had an excuse. She had broken her foot six weeks ago and was laid up with an air boot. Turns out she may need surgery after all. Turns out different doctors will give you widely different opinions. Lee wasn’t sure how she felt about the fact that the only opinion that mattered at the end of the day was her own.
Sophie sat behind her at the table, painting her nails. She was supposed to be reading The Great Gatsby but had somehow managed to segue into grooming within minutes of sitting down. The mood music drifted from the television. Lee thought about how people never say television when speaking, but how it is more proper than TV when writing. She thought about the many ways speaking and writing were different, and how this had perplexed her all her life. She was sure she couldn’t write realistic dialogue because of it.
She was glad she didn’t have to write dialogue for Charlotte. The occasional meow was sufficient, sometimes with a side of purring or a variety of guttural sounds only a pet owner could love and understand. The hissing was reserved for when Sophie tried to torture her like a territorial big sister.
The window was cracked again, and the sound of cars whooshing by reminded Lee of her confinement. She would not drive for weeks. She would not walk for weeks. She would continue to use a knee cart to navigate the narrow lanes of her house—measuring out her every move so she wouldn’t further injure herself. Or anyone else. It may be too late.
The familiar sound of Charlotte crunching on her food could be heard from the kitchen. She liked to eat when everyone was home, when things were quiet and predictable. Lee wondered what she was thinking when hovered over her ceramic bowl, lapping at water that probably needed refreshed. She wondered what she was thinking when staring at a plant for several minutes on end. Maybe if she could tap into a cat’s thoughts she could land a bestseller.
When they first brought Charlotte home, she had disappeared overnight. They couldn’t figure it out—how a cat could just be gone. They looked everywhere. Could she have gotten out? Could they have been so careless? They searched the house, the yard, the neighborhood.
Hours later, after everyone had stopped calling and shaking cat toys and rattling bags of treats, Charlotte had calmly emerged from the tiniest crack in the kitchen between the stove and the cabinet. She was so small then—and full of secrets. She never disappeared again—at least not inside the house.